Tunisian Revolution

Tunisians made history last week by overthrowing their ruler Ben Ali and his corrupt clan of cronies. For anyone familiar with astrology, this comes as no surprise, for the planet Pluto, a catalyst for transformation, resided in Capricorn from from 1762 until 1777. Pluto will remain in Capricorn, the sign of stability and structure, until 2023.

Seeds of the American Revolution were sown in the aftermath of the French and Indian war (1754 – 1762) when the British aristocracy demanded taxes from the colonists to pay for the war against France. This resulted in odious taxes such as the Stamp Act in 1765 which taxed legal documents, newspapers, and playing cards along with the Tea Act of 1773 which brought about the Boston Tea Party. Another factor was the Quebec Act which caused the British subjects to believe the Crown favored Catholicism. This act also enlarged the Canadian province to include territory beyond the Appalachian Mountains and north of the Ohio River. Combined with the Proclamation of 1763 which prevented settlement in Indian territory and land speculation, the colonists believed their basic rights were threatened. George Washington in particular was incensed that his land speculation had been thwarted. Of course, the British aristocrats, like the French nobility, avoided paying taxes.

The colonists were in effect ruled by the landed gentry who comprised the British Parliament. Benjamin Franklin represented colonial interests unofficially in England. His influence contributed to the repeal of the Stamp Act but in effect the colonists believed they were not represented in the parliament. “No Taxation Without Representation, ” which originated in Boston before the French and Indian War summarized the list of colonial grievances. Based upon the English Bill of Rights, promulgated in 1689, Englishmen living in North America believed that their rights under the Crown were not in force.

Presidents for life in the Arab world and dynastic rulers in Jordan and the nibblet in Syria would do well to read the Funeral Oration of Pericles delivered at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War.

Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favors the many instead of the few ; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbor for doing what he likes, or even to indulge in those injurious looks which cannot fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens. Against this fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey the magistrates and the laws, particularly such as regard the protection of the injured, whether they are actually on the statute book, or belong to that code which, although unwritten, yet cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace.


Forewarned, and aware of the potential for a social explosion, Arab autocrats throughout the Middle East and North Africa will undoubtedly take stern measure to prevent the from spreading into their realms. Shared prosperity and justice might forestall the rising storm for reform in the Arab world but these common sense reforms are unlikely to be implemented. Islamic revolution is unlikely to sweep away Arab autocrats because the people merely want improvement in their daily life to mitigate the struggle for daily existence. Power brokers in Tunisia, the military, commercial interests, and the politicians will likely regain control over the government.

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Mohammed Bouazzi, 26, a university graduate in computer science living in Sidi Bouzid, was unemployed. He sold fruit and vegetables from a cart and earned about $80 a week. Mohammed hoped to buy a van but operated his business without a license, something he had done since age 10. On Dec 17th, authorities confiscated his eatables and abused him even though no trading licenses were available. He went to the town hall and was rebuffed. Determined to obtain justice, he then went to the office of the regional governor “doused himself in the petrol, and demanded to see an official.” According to his friends, his subsequent self-immolation was accidental.


Days later, another hopeless man, Hussein Nagi Felhi, electrocuted himself, shouting: “no for misery, no for unemployment.”

In Tunisia, a staggering one in five of the population are aged between 15 and 24, compared with one in ten in Britain. Youth unemployment is at least 30 per cent.

Indeed, huge numbers of young people with too much time and too little money is a common factor in many Arab countries. An explosive cocktail of mass youth unemployment, corrupt, ossified regimes and rising food prices could spark revolution with terrifying speed in any number of these states.

In recent weeks there have been angry protests over food prices in Jordan and Algeria. There were riots in Egypt last November after disputed elections. The ingredients for revolution can also be found in oil-rich Libya or Saudi Arabia.

And there is no doubt that the teeming younger generation have very good reason to resent ageing rulers who ignore growing poverty while feathering their own nests.

But simply toppling a bad government does not solve the problems which bred the protests.

Don’t forget that revolution has a track record in the Muslim world. Today’s dictators, from Algeria to Egypt and Tunisia, are themselves heirs of the revolutionaries of the 1950s and 1960s. Grown old and corrupt, they are a warning of what revolution can bring.


Social media precipitated the revolution in Tunisia

WikiLeaks cables: Tunisia blocks site reporting ‘hatred’ of first lady
US embassy warns Tunisian anger over corruption and unemployment, as well as ‘intense dislike’ for president’s wife, threaten country’s stability

Ian Black, Middle East editor, Tuesday 7 December 2010 21.30 GMT

Tunisia has blocked the website of a Lebanese newspaper that published US cables released by WikiLeaks describing high-level corruption, a sclerotic regime, and deep hatred of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali’s wife and her family.

Deeply unflattering reports from the US embassy in Tunis, released by WikiLeaks, make no bones about the state of the small Maghreb country, widely considered one of the most repressive in a repressive region.

The problem is clear“, wrote ambassador Robert Godec in July 2009, in a secret dispatch released by Beirut’s al-Akhbar newspaper. “Tunisia has been ruled by the same president for 22 years. He has no successor. And, while President Ben Ali deserves credit for continuing many of the progressive policies of President Bourguiba, he and his regime have lost touch with the Tunisian people. They tolerate no advice or criticism, whether domestic or international. Increasingly, they rely on the police for control and focus on preserving power.

“Corruption in the inner circle is growing. Even average Tunisians are now keenly aware of it, and the chorus of complaints is rising. Tunisians intensely dislike, even hate, first lady Leila Trabelsi and her family. In private, regime opponents mock her; even those close to the government express dismay at her reported behaviour. Meanwhile, anger is growing at Tunisia’s high unemployment and regional inequities. As a consequence, the risks to the regime’s long-term stability are increasing.”

Effective delivery of services, 5% economic growth, model rights for women and religious tolerance are all impressive and unusual for the region. But Tunisia suffers from high unemployment and regional inequities. It is also “a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems”. France, the former colonial power, and Italy are singled out as having “shied away” from applying pressure for political reform.

Frustrating though this all is, the US cannot afford to write off Tunisia. “We have too much at stake,” Godec’s report continued. “We have an interest in preventing al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and other extremist groups from establishing a foothold. We have an interest in keeping the Tunisian military professional and neutral. We also have an interest in fostering greater political openness and respect for human rights.”

Days later, an evening in the opulent home of Ben Ali’s son-in-law Mohamed Sakher El Materi provided a striking illustration of the “great wealth and excess” fuelling resentment of the presidential family. (El Materi had recently helped the British ambassador to secure several appointments for the Duke of York, who was visiting to promote UK trade.) Aged 28, he owns a shipping cruise line, concessions for Audi, Volkswagen, Porsche and Renault, a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm, and real estate companies.

El Materi, keen “to assist McDonald’s to enter Tunisia”, served a lavish dinner with ice cream and frozen yoghurt brought in by private plane from St Tropez, where he and his wife, Nesrine, one of the president’s daughters, had just spent a two-week holiday (although their favourite destination is the Maldives). The El Materi household includes a large tiger, named Pasha, living in a cage, which consumes four chickens a day. The situation “reminded the US envoy of Uday Hussein’s lion cage in Baghdad”. The couple were planning to move to a new home “closer to a palace.”

Godec concluded: “The opulence with which El Materi and Nesrine live and their behaviour make clear why they and other members of Ben Ali’s family are disliked and even hated by some Tunisians. The excesses of the Ben Ali family are growing.”


Ex Tunisia President’s Wife Left with 1.5 Tons of Gold: Report


See also:


Dozens of people have died in a month of clashes that were initially between police and protesters angry about repression and corruption but now appear to be between police and Ben Ali loyalists.

Many Tunisians were especially overjoyed at the prospect of life without Ben Ali’s wife Leila Trabelsi and her family.

…The downfall of the 74-year-old Ben Ali, who had taken power in a bloodless coup in 1987, served as a warning to other autocratic leaders in the Arab world. His Mediterranean nation, a popular tourist destination known for its wide beaches, deserts and ancient ruins, had seemed more stable than many in the region before the uprising that began last month. Hundreds of stranded tourists were still being evacuated from the country Sunday.

…Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks had discussed the high levels of nepotism and corruption displayed by Trabelsi’s clan. But U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley rejected any notion that WikiLeaks disclosures led to the revolution in Tunisia, saying Sunday that Tunisians were already well aware of the graft, nepotism and lavish lifestyles of the former president and his relatives.


Jobless youths in Tunisia riot using Facebook


The First WikiLeaks Revolution?
Posted By Elizabeth Dickinson Thursday, January 13, 2011 – 6:17 PM

Tunisians didn’t need any more reasons to protest when they took to the streets these past weeks — food prices were rising, corruption was rampant, and unemployment was staggering. But we might also count Tunisia as the first time that WikiLeaks pushed people over the brink. These protests are also about the country’s utter lack of freedom of expression — including when it comes to WikiLeaks.

Tunisia’s government doesn’t exactly get a flattering portrayal in the leaked State Department cables. The country’s ruling family is described as “The Family” — a mafia-esque elite who have their hands in every cookie jar in the entire economy. “President Ben Ali is aging, his regime is sclerotic and there is no clear successor,” a June 2009 cable reads. And to this kleptocracy there is no recourse; one June 2008 cable claims: “persistent rumors of corruption, coupled with rising inflation and continued unemployment, have helped to fuel frustration with the GOT [government of Tunisia] and have contributed to recent protests in southwestern Tunisia. With those at the top believed to be the worst offenders, and likely to remain in power, there are no checks in the system.”

Of course, Tunisians didn’t need anyone to tell them this. But the details noted in the cables — for example, the fact that the first lady may have made massive profits off a private school — stirred things up. Matters got worse, not better (as surely the government hoped), when WikiLeaks was blocked by the authorities and started seeking out dissidents and activists on social networking sites.

As PayPal and Amazon learned last year, WikiLeaks’ supporters don’t take kindly to being denied access to the Internet. And the hacking network Anonymous launched an operation, OpTunisia, against government sites “as long as the Tunisian government keep acting the way they do,” an Anonymous member told the Financial Times.

As in the recent so-called “Twitter Revolutions” in Moldova andIran, there was clearly lots wrong with Tunisia before Julian Assange ever got hold of the diplomatic cables. Rather, WikiLeaks acted as a catalyst: both a trigger and a tool for political outcry. Which is probably the best compliment one could give the whistle-blower site.


Tunisian President Ben Ali flees country amid unrest; prime minister takes reins

By Edward Cody and Joby Warrick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, January 15, 2011; 4:41 AM

PARIS – After four weeks of steadily escalating riots across Tunisia, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali lost his grip on power Friday. The country’s prime minister announced that he was taking over to organize early elections and usher in a new government.

Ben Ali, 74, fled the North African country. After several hours of mystery over his whereabouts, the office of Saudi King Abdullah confirmed early Saturday that Ben Ali and his family had landed in Saudi Arabia.

Although the Saudi announcement did not say how long Ben Ali planned to stay, the day’s events suggested that his 23 years as Tunisia’s ruler were over, submerged by a wave of unrest set off by economic deprivation, official corruption and political frustration in the mostly Sunni Muslim country.

The spectacle of the iron-fisted leader being swept from office was certain to resonate elsewhere in the Arab world. Smaller protests have erupted in Egypt, Jordan and Algeria in recent weeks as the region’s many autocratic governments, often in power without the underpinning of democratic elections, have come under increasing pressure from similarly frustrated youths.

During a trip to the region this week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton repeatedly warned governments there that they must expand political and social freedoms or face unrest or worse. Clinton reacted Friday to Ben Ali’s departure with a statement condemning government violence against protesters and calling for free elections.

“We look to the Tunisian government to build a stronger foundation for Tunisia’s future with economic, social and political reforms,” she said.

The United States has long considered Tunisia an important ally, in part because of Ben Ali’s close cooperation with U.S. security officials in fighting al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups. U.S. officials and regional experts say the United States has not been a target of the protests, which have focused mainly on economic issues and political freedoms.

A senior administration official who has closely followed events in Tunisia said the State Department has been quietly pressuring Ben Ali’s government to undertake reforms.

The prime minister, Mohammed Ghannoushi, 69, in a solemn appearance on national television, vowed to abide by the constitution in laying the groundwork for a vote to choose a new government as soon as possible, in consultation with all political factions and social groups. He was not flanked by military officers and gave no explanation of Ben Ali’s removal.

“Since the president is temporarily without the capacity to carry out his duties, it has been decided that the prime minister would exercise his functions,” Ghannoushi said from the presidential palace in Carthage, near the capital, Tunis. “I call on Tunisians of all political and regional tendencies to show patriotism and unity.”


Tunisia Leader Flees and Prime Minister Claims Power

Published: January 14, 2011

TUNIS — Tunisia’s president,Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, fled his country on Friday night, capitulating after a month of mounting protests calling for an end to his 23 years of authoritarian rule. The official Saudi Arabian news agency said he arrived in the country early Saturday.

The fall of Mr. Ben Ali marked the first time that widespread street demonstrations had overthrown an Arab leader. And even before the last clouds of tear gas had drifted away from the capital’s cafe-lined Bourguiba Boulevard, people throughout the Arab world had begun debating whether Tunisia’s uprising could prove to be a model, threatening other autocratic rulers in the region.

“What happened here is going to affect the whole Arab world,” said Zied Mhirsi, a 33-year-old doctor protesting outside the Interior Ministry on Friday. He carried a sign highlighting how he believed Tunisia’s protests could embolden the swelling numbers of young people around the Arab world to emulate the so-called Jasmine Revolution.

Because the protests came together largely through informal online networks, their success has also raised questions about whether a new opposition movement has formed that could challenge whatever new government takes shape. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, a close ally from the president’s hometown, announced on state television that he was taking power as interim president. But that step violated the Tunisian Constitution, which provides for a succession by the head of Parliament, something that Mr. Ghannouchi tried to gloss over by describing Mr. Ben Ali as “temporarily” unable to serve.

Yet by late Friday night, Tunisian Facebook pages previously emblazoned with the revolt’s slogan, “Ben Ali, Out,” had made way for the name of the interim president. “Ghannouchi Out,” they declared.


Tunisia riots: more protests threatened as President Ben Ali flees to Saudi Arabia
Protesters behind the mass uprising in Tunisia threatened more demonstrations today, as officials confirmed that ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had fled to Saudi Arabia.

By Colin Freeman 8:28AM GMT 15 Jan 2011

Mr Ben Ali and his family arrived in the Saudi port city of Jeddah on Friday night, following in the footsteps of numerous other deposed leaders who have been offered asylum in the kingdom.

The collapse of his 23-year-long authoritarian rule, the first time an Arab leader has yielded to “people power”, was greeted with widespread jubilation in Tunisia, where up to 80 people have been killed in clashes with police in recent weeks.

But last night, activists were threatening to take to the streets yet again, despite the imposition of emergency rule by the government in a bid to restore law and order.

“Tomorrow we will be back on the streets, in Martyrs Square, to continue this civil disobedience until … the regime is gone. The street has spoken,” said Fadhel Bel Taher, whose brother was one of dozens of people killed in protests.

Following Mr Ben Ali’s decision to step down on Friday night, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has taken over as caretaker president. It is unclear, however, whether the protesters will accept Ghannouchi’s interim leadership.

Yesterday there were signs of the protests spiralling out of control, with groups of looters attacking both people and property and setting fire to buildings. The army has been called out onto the streets, while in some suburbs, residents lined the streets holding baseball bats and metal bars to fend off looters. Gunshots could be heard in the capital, Tunis, and helicopters patrolled overhead.

As of Saturday morning, the main thoroughfare in Tunis, Avenue Bourguiba, was blocked off by troops after the lifting of an overnight curfew. The streets were largely deserted and the atmosphere tense, yet despite the heavy security presence, there were reports of sporadic outbreaks of looting in some parts of the city.

Up to 40 prisoners were also reported to have been killed in a fire that broke out a jail in the Tunisian resort town of Monastir.

“Right now the Monastir prison is on fire. I can see tens of dead and tens of prisoners who have escaped. The whole prison is on fire, the furniture, mattresses, everything,” said local man Shokri Chouchan.

The main train station in Tunis was also burnt down, although Tunis Carthage International Airport, which was closed amid Friday’s unrest, re-opened on Saturday. Hundreds of tourists and other foreigners have been trapped there.

Mr Ghannouchi was due to meet representatives of opposition parties on Saturday to attempt to form a coalition government.

In language that struck a non-confrontational tone, he said in a live television broadcast last night: “We are at the service of the Tunisian people. Our country does not deserve everything that is happening. We must regain the trust of citizens in the government.”

He said he would act as president until new elections could be held, but conceded that Mr Ben Ali was unlikely to return in the foreseeable future. “The current circumstances do not allow for the return of Ben Ali to Tunisia,” he said, adding, though, that Tunisian opposition figures in exile abroad were free to return.

One of those invited to meet Mr Ghannouchi for coalition talks was Najib Chebbi, a lawyer who has long been seen by Western diplomats as the most credible figure in the opposition.

“This is a crucial moment. There is a change of regime under way. Now it’s the succession,” Mr Chebbi said in a television interview. “It must lead to profound reforms, to reform the law and let the people choose.”

The protests have been watched nervously by other Arab governments in the region, many of which, like Tunisia’s, have large, youthful populations who see their rulers as autocratic and out of touch. The spectacle of Mr Ben Ali being given refuge by Saudi Arabia is unlikely to change that perception.

The Saudi ruling family have a history of receiving out-of-favour politicians. Jeddah, where he arrived last night, was the former Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, spent his final years.

“The kingdom welcomed the arrival of the President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his family,” a statement on the official Saudi Press Agency said.

It said the royal court’s decision to welcome Ben Ali was based on appreciation of the “exceptional circumstances” Tunisia was going through.

Thousands of messages congratulating the Tunisian people have flooded the Internet. In Egypt, dozens of activists opposed to President Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade regime danced outside the Tunisian Embassy in Cairo, chanting “Ben Ali, tell Mubarak a plane is waiting for him too!”

Mr Ben Ali was first thought to have flown to France but was reportedly refused permission to enter by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The US was keen to demonstrate it was open to a peaceful transition in the North African state of ten million people.

But while the protests in Tunisia were led by an educated young population eager to expand their freedoms, in its neighbours much of the opposition is demanding the replacement of pro-western regimes with Islamic rule.

The final moments of Mr Ben Ali’s long dominance of his country will be remembered for the drama on the streets as protests that have raged across the country for four weeks, finally reached the capital on Thursday.

Demonstrators ignored a curfew, and took no notice of a promise by Mr Ben Ali that night not to seek a sixth term of office in 2014. Instead of returning home, they took to the streets and the roof-tops, even of government buildings and the interior ministry, hurling stones at symbols of authority.

Television pictures showed plain clothes police firing rounds, and hauling individual students to the ground, where they would then be kicked and beaten by riot squads.

Thousands of British and other western tourists were told to stay indoors.

Many were evacuated. Holiday-makers described rampaging mobs breaking windows along the street outside their hotels.

“I was scared I was going to get hurt and I felt sorry for the people,” said Cynthia Rigby, 55, from Liverpool. “It is horrible out there.”

The initial trigger for the riots was unemployment. They started after a young graduate, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself alight on December 17 in protest at having the vegetable barrow that was his only means of earning a living taken from him for not having a licence. He died on January 5.

But students also objected to the heavy censorship of information, including the internet, and to the corruption in the president’s family. A US dipomatic cable released by Wikileaks described their ally as a “police state”.

Another described the luxurious beachside villa, complete with pet tiger, occupied by the president’s son-in-law.

On Thursday night Mr Ben Ali also admitted that he had failed to listen to the people. But this only served to encourage the protesters.


Patrick Cockburn: Troubles like these are brewing all over the Middle East

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Is it a real revolution in Tunisia or will another member of the ruling elite succeed in replacing President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali who took flight yesterday?

It is a crucial question for the rest of the Arab world where other corrupt police states face the same political, social and economic problems as Tunisia.

A striking feature of the whole Middle East for more than 30 years has been the unpopularity of the regimes combined with their depressing ability to stay in power. Most have found ways of preventing revolutions or military coup d’etats through ferocious security services protecting rickety state machines that mainly function as a source of jobs and patronage.

In Tunisia, Mr Ben Ali, along with other Arab leaders, presented himself as an opponent of Muslim fundamentalism and therefore won tolerance if not plaudits in Western capitals.

But the revolution that is brewing across the Middle East is of a traditional model springing from high unemployment, particularly among better educated young men, and a ruling class unable to resolve any of their countries’ economic problems. The most obvious parallel with Tunisia is Egypt where the sclerotic regime of President Hosni Mubarak clings to power.

Will the present so-called “soft coup” work whereby Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi takes power and calms down protesters by promises of reform and elections? It does not look very likely. The declared State of Emergency is not working. There is not reason to suppose that a political leader so closely associated with the old regime will have any credibility with people in the streets.

Conditions vary across the Arab world but there is plenty in common between the situation in Tunisia and that in Algeria, Jordan and Egypt. Economic and political stagnation is decades old. In some states this is made more tolerable by access to oil revenues, but even this is not enough to provide jobs for educated youths who see their path blocked by a corrupt elite.

There are echoes of the Tunisian crisis in other countries. In Jordan the security forces have been battling rioters in Maan, a traditional site of unrest in the past where the government has difficulty coping. In Kuwait there was an attack by security forces in December on academic and members of parliament. Food prices have been going up.

Yet all these regimes that are now in trouble had a carefully cultivated image in the west of being “moderate” and anti-fundamentalist. In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, President George Bush and Tony Blair made much of their democratic agenda for the Middle East, but when one of the few democratic elections to take place in the region produced victory for Hamas among the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank, the US did everything to thwart the outcome of the poll.

The Middle East still has a reputation for coups but a striking feature of the region since the early 1970s is how few of the regimes have changed. The forces behind the Tunisian events are not radically new but they are all the more potent for being so long suppressed.

Western governments have been caught on the hop because explosions of social and economic frustration have been long predicted but have never happened. The extent of the uprising is yet to be defined and the Tunisian army evidently hopes that the departure of Mr Ben Ali may be enough for the government to restore its authority. The generals could be right, but the shootings over the last month failed to work. There is no particular reason why the same tactics should start to work now.


Overthrow of Tunisian president jolts Arab region

By Liz Sly and Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, January 15, 2011; 7:57 PM

BAGHDAD – Moments after Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was ejected from his palace, tweets began flying across a region that was at once enthralled and appalled by the specter of an Arab leader being overthrown by his own people.

“Today Ben Ali, tomorrow Hosni Mubarak,” gloated one tweeter, referring toEgypt‘s long-serving president. “Come on Mubarak, take a hint and follow the lead,” urged another.

And prominent Egyptian blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy observed: “Revolutions are like dominos.”

On Saturday, a day after Tunisia’s president was forced into exile by massive street demonstrations, the Middle East was still reeling, with calls for copycat protests reverberating across the Internet, in cafes and on street corners as far afield as Jordan and Yemen. For the first time in the history of a part of the world long calcified by autocratic rule, a dictator had been forced from office by a popular revolt, and it was all broadcast live on television.

Leaders braced for the fallout. Elites analyzed the potential for the revolution to spread. Ordinary people celebrated, marveled, gossiped and wondered: Will it happen here? What can we do? And, perhaps most important, who will be next?

Only one certainty stood out: The turmoil in tiny Tunisia, long ignored as a sleepy outpost of relative stability on the fringe of a volatile region, will have profound ramifications for the rest of the Arab world.

“Things will not be the same any longer,” predicted Labib Kamhawi, a political analyst in the Jordanian capital of Amman. “2011 will witness drastic change, and it is long overdue.”

The rumblings are already there. Jordan, Algeria and Libya have all seen violent protests in recent weeks, spurred by rising prices, unemployment and anger at official corruption – much the same issues that precipitated the snowballing street protests in Tunisia a month ago.


From the Washington Post:

jackoByte wrote:
At this time the thing that strikes me is that in Tunisia the Politicians kill the people whereas here in the USA the people/persons kill the Politicians.
Counter intuitively could it be because here in the USA guns are available to the people (obviously) whereas in Tunisia it would be impossible for the average Ali to get one?
Using these tokens of comparison the USA would appear more aligned with Pakistan, somewhat embarrassing but guns are apparently tightly controlled there too! well at least in Law, such that they are not available to the common man.
1/14/2011 11:41:19 PM

rkerg1 wrote:
is it karma? For the last 30 years the oil cartel has been creating controlled shortages to increase the price of oil. Many of those middle eastern countries used their oil wealth to subsidize the price of food in their own countries. Now the price of oil is so high that it is profitable to turn corn into gasoline which, dampens the worlds oil consumption while at the same time creating food shortages and price increases. What goes around comes around.
1/14/2011 11:27:58 PM

silentjay wrote:
Great. Who’s next?

Bank of America.
1/14/2011 11:13:38 PM

remant wrote:
There’s rioting in Jordan and Algeria over the rising price of food and commodities, and in Tunisia it has already brought down the government. Indeed the same is occurring throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Americans, whose central bank undoubtedly caused this inflation by flooding the world with dollars, and probably the Europeans similarly, will welcome this as a sign of democratic change, while its economists will preposterously say it signals the return of prosperity. Does this make any sense? Will they say the same of the Jordanian and Algerian govts, which they’ve supported as much as the one in Tunisia now forced to flee the country? You may as well argue the flooding now occurring the world over is a harbinger of coming abundance. If rising demand were behind this why are food prices not rising at the same rate in the US? Didn’t we learn anything when gas prices went through the roof in 2007? Does anyone really think that just because Christians have been targeted, this is a manifestation of Arab radicalism, and would that, in any case comport with the idea that these protests are pro-democracy? Unemployment in Algeria is put at 30% twice that in the US.
1/14/2011 11:01:53 PM

armyofone wrote:
The situation of the poor in Egypt is far worse than Tunisia regarding availability of food. Mubarak must be very, very worried and he should be. His best efforts for long-term survival would be to take cotton lands out of cultivation to boost local production of food crops.
1/14/2011 10:52:34 PM

Bud0 wrote:
Ben Ali was in power for 23 years with barely an audible murmur of discontent from the people. It’s not that Algeria’s students weren’t idealistic enough, or that their educated classes didn’t yearn for freedom. But these groups’ aspirations, without support from the broad mass of people, can be easily suppressed by the modern police state. Arab governments have been proving that for decades.

So what changed to suddenly make Ben Ali vulnerable? Food. Hunger will drive the masses into the street. Never mind “Give me liberty or give me death!” the Algerian demonstrators’chant was: “Bring us sugar!”

Even the French Revolution began as a Parisian bread riot. And suddenly, across North Africa and in many other places, food supplies are tight.

Notice Ben Ali’s last desperate effort to cut a deal involved lowering food prices. Mubarak must be terrified – food riots already swept Egypt in 2008 and the long-term food outlook is terrible.

Talk of liberty bells ringing out across the Arab world is rubbish. But there will be food shortages around the Arab world, and – by finally getting the masses into the streets – that’s the one thing that could bring these regimes down. Just don’t assume you’re going to like their replacements any better.

One thing is sure: the new governments won’t be scrambling to write a Jeffersonian constitution. They’ll be scrambling to put food on tables, whatever the expense in long-term debt. They know that would buy them stability.

But food production is already falling behind population increase, due to global warming. Yes it is, you silly deniers. Globally, food prices have nearly doubled since 2000 and the market never lies.

So expect more food riots, and more governments to fall. And also wars over shrinking irrigation resources. And eventually, whole desperate nations full of starving people. That may sound alarmist, but compare food production trends to population trends, and you’ll see it’s actually inevitable.
1/14/2011 10:41:21 PM

remant wrote:
There’s rioting in Jordan and Algeria over the rising price of food and commodities, and in Tunisia it has already brought down the government. Indeed the same is occurring throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Americans, whose central bank undoubtedly caused this inflation by flooding the world with dollars, and probably the Europeans similarly, will welcome this as a sign of democratic change, while its economists will preposterously say it signals the return of prosperity. Does this make any sense? Will they say the same of the Jordanian and Algerian govts, which they’ve supported as much as the one in Tunisia now forced to flee the country? You may as well argue the flooding now occurring the world over is a harbinger of coming abundance. If rising demand were behind this why are food prices not rising at the same rate in the US? Didn’t we learn anything when gas prices went through the roof in 2007? Does anyone really think that just because Christians have been targeted, this is a manifestation of Arab radicalism, and would that, in any case comport with the idea that these protests are pro-democracy? Unemployment in Algeria is put at 30% twice that in the US.
1/14/2011 11:01:53 PM

armyofone wrote:
The situation of the poor in Egypt is far worse than Tunisia regarding availability of food. Mubarak must be very, very worried and he should be. His best efforts for long-term survival would be to take cotton lands out of cultivation to boost local production of food crops.
1/14/2011 10:52:34 PM

Bud0 wrote:
Algeria may be full of young graduates frustrated with their prospects, even of liberal democrats yearning to be free, but this is not what knocked off Ben Ali.
All those people now hearing about this for the first time forget how it all started.

VoiceofAmerica: 2 Killed, Hundreds Injured in Algerian Food Riots
“The unrest began this week after the sudden price hike of food staples such as flour, sugar and oil.”


Algeria increases wheat supplies after food riots


“(Reuters) – Algeria’s state grains agency will increase by 18 percent the amount of soft wheat it supplies to the local market each month, official media said on Sunday, amidst unrest over rising food prices.”

Two killed in Algerian food riots


“…Rioting began in Algiers when prices went up as the new year began.”

Algerian riots resume over food prices


“The cost of flour and salad oil has doubled in recent months, reaching record highs. A kilogram of sugar, which a few months ago cost 70 dinars, is now 150 dinars (£1.28).”

Youths riot in Algeria over high food prices


Associated Press – Thu Jan 6, 3:21 pm ET
‘ALGIERS, Algeria – Riots over rising food prices and chronic unemployment spiraled out from Algeria’s capital on Thursday, with youths torching government buildings and shouting “Bring us Sugar!”‘

Ben Ali is the first head of state to fall victim to the world’s growing food shortage.
1/14/2011 10:37:00 PM

EddietheInfidel wrote:
Oops, my mistake: Iran still has a “functional” government in the “oppressive theological” column.
1/14/2011 10:33:31 PM

EddietheInfidel wrote:
Now that Tunisia has ousted their oppressive strongman, the country will be ripe pickings for Al-Queda in the Mahgreb.

The lack of functional government (i.e., brutal militaristic or oppressive theological dictatorship) in any muslim majority country in Africa or the Middle East appears to generally result in the infiltration of radical islamists coming in to fill the void and creating havoc.

Witness Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, et. al.

Yes, I know some will argue that Tunisia is “too European” to allow such a thing. To that I say, witness France, the UK, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, et. al.; “European” countries that are now all struggling with immigrant muslim minority populations that that refuse to integrate into the society of their adopted countries, and includes at least a few individuals that have embraced an ideology that teaches that killing non-muslims is a pathway to paradise.

Good luck to the people of Tunisia in avoiding this fate.
1/14/2011 10:26:20 PM

maggots wrote:
jjcrocket13 wrote:
Another victory for lady liberty in the middle east:-)
The Bush mission is working!

The last of the neocons, still putting a spin on unrelated events.
1/14/2011 10:23:36 PM

tulsa_dave wrote:
waxtraxs wrote:
Really? 9/11 wasn’t enough to convince you The Bush mission wasn’t working????? Immediately after 9/11 if your last name was bin Laden your family was one of the most protected families in America.
Bush + bin Laden doing the nasty long before 9/11
Really??? You want to condemn a whole family for the actions of an individual???
You would have made a good Nazi!!!
Kill the whole family!
Eliminate the bloodline!
Heil Hitler!!!!
1/14/2011 10:05:33 PM

jbksss wrote:
How mortifying for our long suffering citizenry to be outdone by the Tunisians. They are doing what we haven’t done since the 1770s, but should be doing now. Perhaps some of them would be interested in consultation work here.

wesatch wrote:
Watch out, better hide this stuff fro middle class Americans who have had their security, futures, employment, and money grabbed by the Federal Reserve, banks, Wall street and their government while the top 0.5% control the wealth property and government of the U.S.
1/14/2011 9:21:27 PM

klakey1 wrote:
Good riddance to Ben Ali, but what follows? The Iranians got rid of the Shah. Then they installed the Ayatollah and a dictatorial theocracy. I’m glad Ben Ali’s gone, but I don’t think Tunisia is out of the woods yet.
1/14/2011 9:20:19 PM

maximus4 wrote:
NutJobs in Iran,Syria,North Korea,Mugabe and the Chinese-pay attention.
1/14/2011 7:35:38 PM

hairguy01 wrote:
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” -JFK.
1/14/2011 5:28:36 PM

WillSeattle wrote:
Glad he’s gone.
If the Republics trying to make America pay for the 0.1 percent think we in the American middle class are going to put up with the same thing here, they have another think coming.
1/14/2011 5:23:29 PM

From the New York Times:

Charleston, WV
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
It is a great news to hear that people’s will still exists in some parts of the world. I can’t wait to see the day when people of Kashmir will also be able to take off the yoke of slavery of a oppressive administration. Hopefully that day is around the corner when unarmed poor Kashmiri’s will chase out one of the most brutal army of the world out of Kashmir valley.

Chelsea, New York, NY
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
The first post I read is #258 claiming Tunisia abolished slavery before Scandanavia.
1. Tunisia abolished slavery in no small part because France had invaded neighboring Algeria in no small part due to their continued enslavement of white people.
2. Scandinavia never had slavery, thus there was no need to make it illegal since it was not practiced. Why you would single out Scandinavia is a funny question that you likely can’t answer convincingly.
3. It’s curious you mention abolishing polygamy. Isn’t that intolerant? Who are they to say who can and can’t love another person? Are you a racist too?

Berkeley, CA
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
The Kashmiris, too, have been fighting against the oppressive Indian occupation for decades — the most militarized occupation in the world, with 700,000+ soldiers in the Valley. Since the last three years the movement for self-determination or Azadi in Kashmir has been insistently unarmed, yet the Indian forces have continued their tyranny of extra-judicial killings, rapes, and torture, under the umbrella of one of the most draconian laws in existence. Some of these demonstrators pelted stones at the fully-armed soldiers when stopped from carrying out their peaceful protests, and just last summer, the Kashmir Valley lost more than 110 people (mostly youth)due to teargas, shootings, and beatings.

Intellectuals, lawyers, students, journalists, professors, activists, and people from all walks of life are being held hostage, literally and figuratively, by a regime of open terror and a conspiracy of silence from a world that does not want to go against the newest emerging power, especially one that can be used against China…

Wishing success to all movements for justice, dignity, and equality the world over!

New York
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
The problem in Tunisia (and many other lands) is how to replace a bad ruler with a good ruler. They may need to purge many layers of corruption before somebody decent turns up.

Nick A.
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
When I hear that the us is backing yet another corrupt, repressive dictatorship, I tell myself, smarter people than me have identified all the benefits, costs, risks, etc., and plugged all that info into a mega-computer which preforms some game theory magic . . . How can the smartest people in the room make what seems to be such a bad decision?

January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
The headline of the lead story of these events suggests that Arab leaders should learn a lesson from this. I’m more hopeful that Arab people will learn from this because the predictable lesson Arab leaders are drawing will be the all-to-familiar increased repression and the importance of an uneducated, divided citizenry.

Interesting choice of countries for Ben Ali to flee to. Hopefully the people of Tunisia will form a meaningful democracy and Washington will respect their wishes.

Fairbanks, Alaska
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
I note this portion of comment #254, to wit:
“Over time, the RCD (state political party) stifled reforms, mainly because relatively petty players wanted to maintain their status. We can suspect intrigue at higher levels, but more importantly in the grassroots the feeling of being stifled must have grown. With poorer areas cut out of economic opportunity, with population pressure, with too many educated but unemployed young people, with a security establishment as the most powerful tool of state authority, and with a political class that failed to envision other alternatives to oppose extremism, it does not surprise me that events are unfolding this way.”

I acknowledge up front that this next statement is not on-topic, however, it is notable that this paragraph could easily apply to conditions that are developing here in the U.S. While the tragedy in Tucson has given us brief pause, we are both a resilient and forgetful populace, and extremism is well-entrenched. While a populist coup would be impossible in this country (and I am expressly NOT advocating that), we could easily see a further devolution and a greater insecurity in our precious society if we cannot bring balance to bear between rapacious capitalism (and its political allies) versus the needs of keeping ourselves whole… socially, economically and psychologically.

sarah chentov
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
It s not about Portugal or Spain…it is about the right to freedom and democracy that every one in the world deserve included Tunisians.
Some people here bilieve that only Westerners need freedom… and that only westerners were right to launch revolutions, and dismiss autoritarian kings and rulers etc. but they in the same time denie those same rights to Tunisiaans and North Africain people in general. Some politician are asking them to ramain calm, and calling their revolution “violence”.
North Africa – Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Lybia and Egypte- is actually in desperat need for clearly secular democratic constitutions and regimes, a radical positif change before it is taken by Islamists.
If not, I’m afraid that only people’s revolution is going to be efficient
I only hope that the other North African rulers, should take lessons and proceed to the change in many fields. This include respecting international human right laws, stop persecuting opinion/tough offenders, and secular legal oppositions, and atheists and Christians Nationals (for apostasy)…, better economy management for more jobs etc.
We are in a revolutionary era of international digital communication and knowledge, -internet and others-.. What hapened in Europe in the past regarding the struggle for freedoms and prosperity can and must finally happen now in North Africa, before it is too late.
Tunisian people are right to resist, and try to free themself, without lessening to those who are living in the free land but selfishly imposing slavage on others from distance. Enouth is enough !

January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
It really is astonishing how self-absorbed Americans are. Glancing through the comments, it seems almost half of the comments are not about Tunisia but instead about the US. The most insulting of these must be the ones drawing an equivalence between Tunisia under Ben Ali’s regime and the political difficulties in the US. I think the American political process has a lot of room for improvement, but to suggest we have it as bad as Tunisians did under Ben Ali is absurd. Fox News isn’t state media that people are forced to watch, and nobody was forced to vote Republican last November. I don’t like Fox News and I don’t vote Republican, but the fact that I have these choices means I already have what Tunisians had to go to the streets for.

What I think is most encouraging about these events is that we now have more evidence non-western countries are capable of effecting democratic reform without outside intervention. I think it is a positive sign for future of democracy in places like China.

January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
when the American people realize the extent to which the government in Washington has enriched Goldman Sachs at their expense, there is going to be a day similar to this day in Tunisia.

San Francisco
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
One protester in this article said, “Thanks to Al Jezeera.” This is in great contrast to BBC World News, which won’t let its 24-hour TV news be seen here, even on the internet. BBC World News, along with Al Jezeera and france24.com should be seen everywhere in the country, all the time. Most American news-including the NY Times- is pitiful by comparison. Lawrence Morgan, San Francisco

Tunis, Tunisia
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
I’m happy and proud to see that we talk about my country on the first page of NYT. I hope, that we can show you, that we can establish a democracy on an arab country, may be they’ll follow us. I also invite you to come visit Tunisia, it’s a lovely country :)

New Mexico
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
The entire 16th paragraph of this story is a mass of bad grammar. As soon as you write “There is little Islamic fervor there (is there a there there?) you’ve lost the “it” in the next sentence. The singular “spectrum of civil rights” suddenly becomes plural with the use of “are” instead of “is”. And why burden the language and the reader with such cumbersome phrases as “Not only are women not”? Simply write “Women are not required to cover their heads and enjoy a broad range of civil rights not found etc, etc.”
Another train wreck of a sentence pulls out of the station in the 19th paragraph, weighted down by the passive voice:”The protests were accelerated by”..and on..and on.
You’re reporters. This is breaking news, not the minutes of a Junior League luncheon. Keep it snappy: “Young people accelerated the protests by using social media sites such as” etc., etc.
When history is being made, the New York Times should be able to report the events in language that doesn’t distract the reader by calling attention to itself. There’s just no excuse for this, so knock it off.

boston , ma
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
mbazir: Imagine if Saddam Hussein had chosen to leave Iraq as he had been advised to by George W. Bush; many lives would have been spared.

ray gibbs
Chevy Chase, MD.
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
Salutes to all Tunisians, your imaginative use your internet, non-violence, your freedoms. That your “struggle” remain the “standard”
your region. Down and out with despots.
Peace, and the “Greens”, Iran, next.

January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
Hell yeah We did it
we thank aljazeera for its continuing coverage and its bias to Human rights in Tunisia
However we do strongly condemn The US, The EU, and The UN and all international organizations for not talking about our right to choose our presidents until our ex-president fled the country
especially the US it’d never discussed the issue thouroughly aand we know why
give me 3 things and kill as many of your population as you wish
1- NO to Islamic goverment (even a moderate one)
2- NO to a leading role in the arab world against Israeli Terrorism in Palestine
3- No to any restrictions for US companies in Tunisia
as a reward for impleenting these conditions the US has never really intervened in Tunisia for helping the people here take control but it turned a blind eye to all calls for help to spread the force of law and not the law of force
Thanks Tunisians
hey the US Stop your hypocrisy

January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
Mubarak’s next
When he falls, watch out for the domino effect: Kadaffi, and the thug in Sudan will immediately fall. The house of Saud will collapse from within.

Mississauga, Ontario
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
It’s time we throw these parasite and blood suckers out of their villa’s and let us govern, next stop Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iran and let’s not forget Pakistan

abdelkader rahmaoui
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
the wind of change is blowing in the Arabic countries and so many dictators start felling that ,that is why they rush to quell the voices of the people either by the carrot or the stick but the people became so conscious about their rights and became certain that they will not lose any thing but their chains and their marginalization and in the end they will win a word of freedom and dignities for them and for their kids.long life to the people and death to dictators

T. Alon
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
God bless the Tunisian people! I hope this is the start of all Arab peoples standing up to their autocratic rulers who have, for too long, used conspiracy theories and force to keep their people subjugated and weak! This is liberty in its most beautiful expression!

san francisco
January 14th, 2011
10:56 pm
Birmingham, Ala.
January 14th, 2011
4:50 pm
The United States needs to tread carefully because there is a tenuous and even shifting line between basic human rights and cultural imperialism. If there is a lesson from the Bush Years it is that we must live in the world as we find it, not as we would like to make it.
Exactly! PENAC ‘Empire Building’ has not worked for Bush/Cheney nor our current President.
Ahhh…but what we can and must do is rebuild and bring America back to it’s greatness!

Philadelphia, PA
January 14th, 2011
8:47 pm
Libertine #252. Some additions to your comment:
1846 Tunisia abolishes slavery (before Scandinavian countries)
1861 First Arab country with a Constitution
1956 Tunisia abolishes polygamy (First Arab country)
1973 First Arab country legalizing abortion (before France and many other European countries including the US)
2011 First Arab country peacefully asking his ruling dictator to leave
In addition to Tunisia as the Arab Women’s Rights Leader (which annoys many Arab countries).
Yes Murtuza (#253), we thank Wilileaks, Anonymous (by blocking government sites) and Facebook (yes Facebook) who allowed Tunisian people to connect and to peacefully remove that “western ally” Ben Ali the dictator. In addition, while all Tunisians are sorry to see the looting on TV, the Army is assisting the Republic in eliminating a band of looting Militia loyal to the old regime (looting started at the same time all over the country in a very orchestrated fashion). Please do not get fooled, we are a peaceful and educated country and the majority of the population is against it. Help us build a new and peaceful democracy.
(Thank you Ines Ben Sadok for the information you provided)

P. E. Graham
Eureka, Ca
January 14th, 2011
8:47 pm
Wow. A wheel is turning in Africa. Things are changing- Sudan, Ivory Coast, Tunisia. The naysayers are predicting chaos due to lack of qualified technocrats, uneducated populaces, Islamization, etc., but I’m not feeling that. I’m feeling the dignity and determination of the people. All of these countries could have been drenched in blood, as has happened in the past. In this technological age, I don’t think dictators can slaughter en mass with impunity like they used to. The world is watching, and it’s making a difference. Slowly, yes, but still.

Nobody forsaw the peaceful, organized, and transparent vote in Sudan. No one believed al Bashir would let the south go. Everyone said it wouldn’t happen, couldn’t happen. But it is happening. And look now at Tunisia.

I think things are changing, that if these things can happen, good changes can be on the horizon. If things go well in these early stages, if everyone steps up to the plate, as they have been so far, this wheel could snowball into something very good for Africa. This powerful sense of self determination that we’re seeing makes all the difference between sucess and failure.

Despite the promise of growing pains, I see real glimmers of hope. And it feels so good. Godspeed!

HIGHLIGHT (what’s this?)
Washington, DC
January 14th, 2011
8:39 pm
I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Tunisia in the early ’90s. It was already a one-party state with Ben Ali propaganda almost everywhere. The government already worried about job opportunities for “school leavers” (those who failed the very difficult exams required to pass into high school) AND for the many graduates. At least at the time, the government realized this was an issue to address via progressive long-term policies. The economy seemed to develop more quickly and wisely than those of its neighbors, but apparently not fast enough. Later, Tunisian economic policy subtly transferred earned wealth from the rural sector to maintain urban stability, presumably to squelch the unrest that has occurred this more recently. At the same time, secular principles were enforced by a fairly large, yet not overbearing, security service. I saw “undercover” police on busses throughout the country. They were generally well educated and acted within the law, but I did hear whispers of harsh responses at times. I believe this was a somewhat rational response to a fear that violent extremists from Algeria would attempt to act in Tunisia. However, these several seeds of growing unrest were sown.

Over time, the RCD (state political party) stifled reforms, mainly because relatively petty players wanted to maintain their status. We can suspect intrigue at higher levels, but more importantly in the grassroots the feeling of being stifled must have grown. With poorer areas cut out of economic opportunity, with population pressure, with too many educated but unemployed young people, with a security establishment as the most powerful tool of state authority, and with a political class that failed to envision other alternatives to oppose extremism, it does not surprise me that events are unfolding this way. It does make me sad, though.

A slightly different approach could have harnessed Tunisia’s strong sense of identity, its progressive attitudes about gender, its decent education, its multilingual population, its beaches, its agriculture, its industriousness. Ben Ali could have entered history as an appropriate heir to the legacy of Bourguiba. Competitive elections could have been held years ago, at least for most positions, without grave risk of extremists winning broad power via ballot. Tunis could have ceded more responsibility and resources to regional and local leaders–outside the channels of the RCD. Now, after the veneer of calm has shattered, it will be harder to accomplish the same transformation. That is why I am sad. But I am still hopeful.

The majority of Tunisians I know are wonderful, diverse, respectful, and willing to invest in their country. I hope those qualities prevail after the dust settles, and that whoever grabs the reins in Tunis will wisely empower them.

Murtuza Quaizar
January 14th, 2011
6:49 pm
This is a victory for wikileak as much as it is a victory for the people of Tunisia. Who can now honestly say that the leaks of all those diplomatic cables was a bad thing?
It is reason enough to set Private Bradley Manning free.

January 14th, 2011
6:49 pm
From what I understand Tunisia is one of the most progressive countries in the region. Women are not required to wear head scarfs, many people are college educated and it isn’t a nation which has a strong fundametalist Islamic tradition. All in all it sounds like a country whose people have had a taste of freedom and refuses to settle for less.

Congratulations to the people of Tunisia on taking back your government with a minimal amount of bloodshed. Ben Ali must go and you made him leave. My best wishes for you to make your government a freer and less oppressive one and one which is responsive to the will of the people whatever your will may be.

January 14th, 2011
5:29 pm
This is only the beginning of insurrections that will be coming in the future years for many reasons. Some will be within countries and other will happen between neighboring countries. The resons will be numerous.

The most basic reason will be the lask of resources to live: food, water, and shelter.

How many countries now have a lack of clean water due to industrial pollution or unsanitary waste going directly into the rivers and lakes. What happens when one country dams a river to keep the water for themselves which then cuts off the supply to the down river country. In either case the citizens will demand that the government do something and if it can’t or won’t, the citizens will rise up.

For countires where the population is growing faster than the supply of food or shelter, the citizens willwant answers. How many places in the world are now overusing and abusing the soil that grows their crops becasue they need food now. What will happen when this soil can no longer provide the nutrients needed to support the plant life? What will happen when the land that used to be used for crops is now used for housing, and that the housing materials are either becoming more expensive or scarce because of the abuse of our natural resources?

This is only the beginning folks. The future will bring us scenes that we won’t ever forget, if we live long enough.

Monsieur Bronx
January 14th, 2011
5:26 pm
Why is it that America supports dictators, as long as they support America?

New York
January 14th, 2011
5:25 pm
Who elected this Prime Minister to take over?

New York
January 14th, 2011
5:24 pm
Notice that this revolution did NOT require a decade-long, trillion-dollar American invasion and occupation.

PMGPillai 19235
Mannar Allpuzha Kerala India
January 14th, 2011
4:52 pm
dear on line editor,What is to be learned from this affair is that people do not tolerate any dictatorship and the authorities must under stand this,In the Arab world this is wonder because under the garb of democracy many of the states and rulers function as sULTANS of yore.Secondly unless therulers refuse to under stand the needs of the population there will be wide apread discontent and mass protests which culminate in the overthrow of existing rulers.In this case the president zine-el-Abidine Ben Ali has read the mass feelings and under stood that there is no HOPE for his existance at that point of time hence escaped certainly with the help of his inner circle supporter dated January 15th 2011 time 0320Hrs ist AM

London, UK
January 14th, 2011
4:52 pm
Mr. Ten Percent is in Washington to sell out Pakistan. Another weirdo should bite the dust. Pakistanis rise, for you have only your chains to throw away. Good luck to Tunisia. Let freedom ring!!!

From the UK Independent:

JoeBauwens 1 hour ago
I’m not sure Tunisia is a very typically Middle-Eastern country. The protests there seem to have been entirely about the economic situation and lack of democracy, with no mention of religion. The country is strategically unimportant, lacks oil wealth & is close to Europe, and seems to have produced a revolution more similar to those in Eastern Europe than the usual Middle Eastern model.
The protests in Iran, Palestine, Morocco, Western Sahara and Algeria are all about economics and corruption also. Where are you seeing a religious uprising? Even Iran in 1979 was more about corruption and graft, but the uprising was taken advantage of by the religious fundamentalists (hopefully something Tunisia can avoid).
By the way, although small compared to Algeria, Tunisia had proven reserves of oil of 308 million barrels (in 2006).

@ Reddevils1983
Yeah, people starving in the streets, secret police torturing and “disappearing people”. Lovely place. You wouldn’t happen to be White and foreign to Tunisia would you? You find locals have a very different experience than tourists do.
I agree with Brian, I find your comments racist and offensive. The Arab culture and history is filled with compassion, beauty and they saved the science of greece from disappearing. Sure they have violence in their history to but nothing compared to European nations.

Phil Sapphire 1 hour ago
It seems clear that this uprising is not a concocted “colour” revolution, as the USA was a supporter of Ben Ali. The big question is how the Tunisian people can turn this uprising into a proper revolution and free their country from the depostism which has plagued it (and others in North Africa) since colonial days. If Egypt were to follow that would indeed be something. They are the second largest recepient of US aid after Israel. Watch this space!

Tarik Toulan 42 minutes ago in reply to Phil Sapphire
The USA is not honest or sincere in its advocacy of democracy in Arab World. Americans have only sought to have poodles (and not democratic rulers) to help implement their policies. But of course, they cannot go against the will of people, like what has happened in Tunisia.

Reddevils1983 1 hour ago
Tunisia is a wonderful place having toured there about 8 years ago, compared to Suadi Arabia it a open free country, about as free as you get in the Arab world I guess.. you have to respect they are not western people and have a different mentalit, let them decide there own destiny.

REAL_DEAL121 2 hours ago
a wise man once said its easier to manipulate a dictator than an elected leader.
That is why America prefer the strong men of middle east to democratic elected leader like turkey Ordogan

Brian Jamieson 1 hour ago in reply to Reddevils1983
Democracy is not culturally specific privilege. Why not expect this standard for all? Britain has a violent history too. There is no single “arab mentality”, I am speechless at the racist implications of your comment.

Reddevils1983 1 hour ago in reply to Brian Jamieson
No I’m not racist in any way, I live in the Philippines, my wife is Filipina, Perhaps my words were a bit strong but I do believe in that “strong horse” type leadership for middle east countries is the only way to keep order.

pecan99 2 hours ago Increasing poulation, high unemployment, frustration at lack of opportunities and lack of real democracy is bringing trouble for the countries in north Africa and the Middle East. The regimes are in real trouble now that people know they have power to change.
With modern technolgies and communications, for the regimes it is harder to keep the people in control. People power is coming to the Middle East.

falanf 2 hours ago Has anybody asked the Tunisian rioters what sort of government they actually want? Do they want a democracy, will they allow women to vote, will they accept an elected leader from a different Muslim sect to their own? The list of Islam-inspired problems is endless and probably explains why Arab Muslim-majority countries usually end up with a military backed dictator of some kind. Of course, non of these problems need to be addressed if the West is still always blamed for what happens in these countries some 50 years after independence – but is that mind-set simply an excuse for doing nothing! And before you yell at me, check it out!

Brian Routh 2 hours ago how dare we point the finger and call other countries dictatorships when our own nation and the US are controlled by corporate dictatorships of the obscenely rich 1% of the population.

indiaisone 22 minutes ago in reply to Brian Routh But we have a vote to kick out one corporate dictator – the trouble is politics is corrupt – (tony blair) – so it does not take long for greed to corrupt the innocent politician – in recent history I would say only Michael Foot was the least corrupt – and look whereit got him to?

allenn007 3 hours ago If indeed there is corruption then it is the system that makes people that way.
In the same way that many bankers and politicians of Britain are corrupt and deceptive, they have done so because the system, political or economic, has allowed them to be but have done so behind the illusion of democracy.
The Arab World is known and accepted as undemocratic, whilst we still have an electoral charade carried out every few years, after which nothing really changes. Cameron, Blair, Clegg, Brown different people but everything remains the same.
It is not confined to the any particular region or peoples, but corruption is endemic across the world.

indiaisone 20 minutes ago in reply to allenn007
Totally agree – man’s greed never changes – is it the selfish gene?

VictorMC 3 hours ago
I have predicted this time and time again in these sort of columns and been sneered at etc.
I repeat, Israel is your last bastion of Judeo/Christian society as we know it.
Every sensible country should be supporting the only genuine democracy in the region- to the hilt as it will always remain a bulwark against these awful medieval fascist/military regimes and that includes Greece and Turkey.
Invent something to take the place of oil and a new world war will start which will revive the world economic depression

hodgeey 2 hours ago in reply to VictorMC
What a novel idea; I always thought that Zionism was the cause of all these problems.

kobeboy 1 hour ago in reply to VictorMC
Israel is slipping into a proto-fascist stage, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an Israeli Human Rights NGO. One example anti-democratic law among many proceeding through the Knesset is the Allegiance for Citizens Bill: all citizens will have to swear allegiance to a Jewish and Zionist state. No room for those of other religious or political views.
Imagine having to swear loyalty to the CofE and the BNP in order to be considered British.

Tom in London 3 hours ago in reply to VictorMC
Israel is not only not a democratic country; it also tried by every means possible to prevent the 2006 Palestinian elections from taking place and interfered with the electoral process in Jerusalem. In spite of that, the elections took place anyway and were internationally confirmed to have been fairly and democratically conducted despite this Israeli interference. The elections were won by Hamas, which since then has been the democratically chosen government of all the Palestinians. Although you wouldn’t think so, judging by the behaviour of the international community ever since then.
(Edited by author 3 hours ago)

ricardo_lion 1 hour ago in reply to Tom in London Israel is a democracy where the 20% Arab minority have rights, rights they don’t enjoy in the Arab world. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Hamas won the elections in Gaza, and they will stay in power forever, just like in other Arab countries. There was a civil war in Gaza following the elections whith Hamas killing Fatah and vice versa, just like it happens in other Arab countries.


Dictatorship to democracy? Tunisia’s risky venture

The Associated Press
Sunday, January 30, 2011; 12:16 AM

TUNIS, Tunisia — The fishmonger at the market cries, “Long live Tunisia!”, his smile as big as the fish he’s slicing. Middle-aged women hold sleep-overs to talk politics deep into the night. Euphoric Tunisians have a chance to do what was undreamable three weeks ago: Build a democracy from the ground up.

But will they?

It is clear what this tiny Arab nation of 11 million has started: A revolution against long-time authoritarian regimes that has already spread to the powerful regional giant, Egypt, and to the impoverished but well-armed Yemen. What is not clear is where Tunisia’s experiment will end.

The ruling party of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali still operates from the shadows, its tentacles wrapped around every aspect of life. Islamists are clamoring for a share of the pie in a country that has known only one-man rule since its founding in 1956. And a shaky interim government – the second in less than two weeks – must keep Tunisia stable until elections in about six months.

All this as the economy tanks. “There are 500 scenarios. There are 1,000 plots,” said Mhadheb Ouled Taieb Zaafouri, a retired university professor of Mediterranean civilization. “In Tunisia, there is something new every hour.”

The most urgent need, experts say, is to avoid chaos by recharging the economy. The vital tourism industry that keeps this small North African country on the map has collapsed overnight, and tourists were evacuated by the thousands. The army stands guard around luxury resorts turned into ghost towns.

“The country is paralyzed now,” says Najib Lairini, an Arab world specialist at the University of Montreal. “This can’t continue.”

Unlike its much larger oil- and gas-rich neighbors, Algeria and Libya, Tunisia has no natural resources and relies heavily on its charm for survival. Tunisia’s government bond ratings now stand at one notch above “junk,” downgraded by Moody’s Investor Services and Standard & Poor’s because of political instability. Youth unemployment is soaring, and food prices are rising.

Until now, Tunisia stood as a beacon of stability in the volatile Mediterranean basin, a modern, solid ally of the West and, at least from afar, a sliver of prosperity thriving in the jasmine-scented sun. The former French colony with a burgeoning middle class is a paradox in the region: A Muslim country where bankers in suits suck on chicha pipes, and where women – mostly without headscarves and almost unanimously without face veils – enjoy many of the same rights as their Western counterparts, including abortion.

But the flimsiness of Tunisia’s postcard image was exposed with the month-long deadly uprising that ended with the 74-year-old Ben Ali’s flight into exile in Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14. The reports of systematic repression, torture of political prisoners, massive corruption and grinding poverty were revealed to a world that had long turned a blind eye.

Ben Ali may now be in Saudi Arabia, but he is far from gone. His party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally, known as the RCD, is still the terror of many dreaming of a new Tunisia. Over the years, the party seeped into all sectors of public life, and its imprint cannot quickly be scrubbed away.

Lairini, the Arab world expert, says that die-hard RCD loyalists are dispersed, disorganized and themselves fearing reprisals. The party’s executive bureau dissolved itself in a bid to curry favor with the people, and politicians are turning in their cards.

“It was a very personalized power structure around the president,” Lairini said. “As soon as the boss left, the organization was decapitated. There is no one to prepare a Plan B or Plan C.”

But after so many years of being tapped by phone and having hundreds of Web sites blocked, many Tunisians do not believe the party will just go away.

“The RCD is rebuilding itself in back rooms,” said Habib Jerjer, head of the Regional Union of Tunis Workers, echoing the visions of many. “Their intelligence service is still in place and more active than ever.”

Some 33 members of the ex-president’s family have been taken into custody, along with the Senate president. Several top advisers have been placed under house arrest. Tunisia has issued an arrest warrant, diffused by Interpol, for Ben Ali and six family members.

But no attempt has yet been made to purge the powerful hierarchy of the omnipresent police force.

The sinister-looking Interior Ministry, in charge of police who carried out repressive policies, was at the heart of Ben Ali’s regime. It was the police, in a sense, who set off the uprising in December, when they confiscated the fruits and vegetables an educated young man was selling and he set himself on fire.

The delicate question of what to do with the police has been made tougher by their role in daily crowd and riot control. The police themselves are divided, with some fighting for better conditions, among them a union.

If fear of the police is embedded in them, Tunisians are also divided over whether Islamists, an illegal movement under Ben Ali like so many others, should be given permission to enter politics. Experts say Ben Ali used a fear of Islamists to seduce Western allies keen for a bulwark against terrorism in a volatile region, and win their blessing despite widespread repression.

The Ennahdha, or Renaissance party – branded an Islamic terrorist group by Ben Ali but considered moderate by scholars – has moved quickly to carve out a place on the political scene, taking part in some demonstrations and meeting at one point with the prime minister. Ennahdha awaits the imminent return of its many exiled members, including leader Rachid Ghanouchi, living for nearly two decades in London.

“Tunisia needs all its children. Our priority is democratic freedom,” said Ajmi Lourimi, a founding member who spent more than 17 years in prison.

But some Tunisians in this unusually modern, well-educated Muslim society fear that a revival of Islam could hurt their hard-won gains and quality of life, or inspire an extremist movement like the al-Qaida-linked network waging an insurgency in neighboring Algeria.

In its second statement addressed to Tunisians, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb praised the uprising that deposed Ben Ali but warned that the “system of infidelity and tyranny” won’t die unless a government based on Islamic law is installed, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors terrorist organizations.

No one is more aware of the stakes than the current caretaker government, forced to shed key ministers last week, 10 days after it was formed, in a major concession to angry crowds denouncing Cabinet heavyweights as lackeys of the former ruling party. In a quick political flip-turn, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, Ben Ali’s prime minister for the past decade, told the citizenry they must be calm to ensure they keep their “rendezvous with history.”

“Today we have an unprecedented chance. Exceptional,” said 56-year-old housewife Saida Ferjani. “But in a year … anything can happen.”

“Tunisia has no history of democracy to draw on. The nation’s modern-day founder, Habib Bourguiba, pointed Tunisia westward, making it a leader of women’s rights in the Arab world and seeding a culture of modernity – while maintaining tight controls and leading a fierce crackdown on Islamists. Bourguiba famously once went on television during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan suggesting citizens should eat.

Ben Ali, a former interior minister, deposed Bourguiba in a palace coup in 1987, saying the father of Tunisia was senile. He announced a new era, calling it “The Change.” But after two years, corruption took firm hold, and growing repression and reports of torture marked his reign.

However, Tunisia has one great advantage against history: Its youth. About 52 percent of its population is less than 22 years old, and is quickly burying a contaminated past that it did not live through.

As it teeters on the cusp of change, Tunisia is going for broke. It’s too late to pull back, and for those committed to transforming a dictatorship into a democracy, the risks are worth it.

“For me this is a birth. Tunisia is giving birth,” said Souha Naija, a doctor at Charles Nicole Hospital. “There is blood, there is pain. But after, there is birth.”


About Jerry Frey

Born 1953. Vietnam Veteran. Graduated Ohio State 1980. Have 5 published books. In the Woods Before Dawn; Grandpa's Gone; Longstreet's Assault; Pioneer of Salvation; Three Quarter Cadillac
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